Sex Matters’ statement on conversion therapy law

Sex Matter praises decision to abandon fatally flawed “Conversion Therapy Bill”.

It has been reported by ITV that the government is abandoning plans for legislation to criminalise “conversion therapy”, and will instead undertake non-legislative measures. 

Human rights organisation Sex Matters welcomes this news. Maya Forstater, Executive Director of Sex Matters, said:

“This news comes as a huge relief. Doctors are supposed to do no harm. Gender-distressed children have been ill-served by the ideological approach that has become common in recent years. Waiting for the final Cass Review is obviously the right thing to do. There is now an opportunity to hear a wider variety of voices and look at the evidence before rushing into legislation that would have harmed the very people it was supposed to help.”

The planned legislation was muddled, incoherent and dangerous. It conflated two entirely different things: sexual orientation – which is a verifiable characteristic and has little or no impact on others – and gender identity, which is unclear and indefinable.

The planned bill could potentially have criminalised ordinary interactions with gender-distressed people, including children, and evidence-based therapies such as “watchful waiting”. It would instead have put into law a vexed, evidence-free approach to gender identity, including for children, that is known to lead to permanent medicalisation, sexual dysfunction, sterility and a range of health problems. The government is right to press pause.

These issues were raised in responses to the consultation on the proposed bill by organisations such as Sex Matters, Transgender Trend and the LGB Alliance, as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Transgender advocacy organisations such as Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence and Stonewall that have promoted childhood transition by propounding a view of gender that is uncoupled from biological sex promoted the flawed plan. Sex Matters has collated all the organisational responses to the proposal.

The planned bill was based on the idea that children can be “transgender” or “cisgender”, but the recent interim report by Hilary Cass on gender-identity services for children concluded that “there is lack of consensus and open discussion about the nature of gender dysphoria and therefore about the appropriate clinical response.” Dr Cass found that clinical staff feel under pressure to adopt an “unquestioning affirmative approach” with children experiencing gender issues, and that this is at odds with the standard process of clinical assessment and diagnosis that they have been trained to undertake.

Criminalising a vaguely defined practice of “gender identity conversion therapy” would only have made it harder to provide responsive, precautionary care for such children. 

The proposal mixed up sexual orientation and “being transgender” (which it failed to define), and applied the concept of “conversion therapy” to both of them as if they were the same. In reality, gender identity and sexual orientation are separate concepts with no logical connection.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission was also concerned that the proposed legislation lacked a sound evidence base, and that it risked preventing “legitimate and appropriate counselling, therapy or support which enables a person to explore their sexual orientation or gender dysphoria” and “criminalising mainstream religious practice such as preaching, teaching and praying about sexual ethics”. 

The number of children presenting with gender-related mental-health issues has risen rapidly in recent years. A rising proportion are teenage girls. Many of these children are same-sex attracted; a disproportionate number are on the autistic spectrum.